Methods Approach & Fieldwork

“You have been told to go grubbing in the library, thereby accumulating a mass of notes and liberal coating of grime. You have been told to choose problems wherever you can find musty stacks of records based on trivial schedules prepared by tired bureaucrats. This is called “getting your hands dirty in real research.” Those who counsel you are wise and honorable; the reasons they offer are of great value. But one more thing is needful: first hand observation. Go and sit in the lounges of the luxury hotels and on the doorsteps of flophouses; sit on the Gold Coast settees and the slum shakedowns; sit in the Orchestra Hall and in the Star and Garter burlesque. In short, [ladies and] gentlemen, go get the seat of your pants dirty in real research.”

– An unpublished 1920s quote by Robert E. Park, recorded by Howard Becker.

Sharing topics during the workshop through insights and talks on current research practice and developing collaborative, interdisciplinary models for research engagement was one main aim of the workshop. We intended to focus on methodological approaches that generate “thick data” (as opposed to big data) on the practice of urban everyday life.

As part of our skill-building approach, we integrated into our workshop material and tools for urban ethnographic research. The invited speakers provided insights for our methodological questions, while collaboration with local artists and writers  creatively enhanced our approaches to urban ethnographic methods. How to capture the invisible, the unspeakable of everyday urban practices?

With a concepted and hand-made “research booklet” for exercises, to find acces to the complexitites of the “urban field”, we focussed on two ethnographic research methods: field notes and mapping.

Together with mapping artist Diana Lucas-Drogan and writer Sebastian Bührig, the participants were looking out for first impressions, things to wonder about and surprises, searching for possibilities of promising observations.

Bildschirmfoto 2018-09-08 um 17.02.17

Sebastian Bührig: Two Tower Block

Diana-Lucas Drogan: Counter-Mappings in Art and Architecture


Posted by:Carolin Genz

Carolin Genz holds a master degree in European Ethnology and Urban Cultures from Humboldt-University of Berlin (2009-2013) and is currently doing research at the Department for Cultural and Social Geography at the Humboldt-University since 2015. Her Ph.D. topic is: "Urban Resistance: Upheaval of Civil Society? Ethnographical perspectives on the transformation of urban everyday life“. Specifically, her research focuses on practices of production and appropriation of space, urban governance and digital tools of urban resistance and network practices. Furthermore, she is an academic consultant and member of the advisory board for Gender Mainstreaming and Diversity for the Senate Department of Housing and Urban Development in Berlin.

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